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Before I became a full-time nomad, I would travel in the fashion of most every other American with a demanding job and limited vacation time: one week in Paris, nine days Greek island hopping, an extra long weekend in Cabo, or an add-on weekend extension of a work-trip.
This was less out of choice, but more out of circumstance — I didn’t have that much vacation time, or I didn’t want to use it all up in one go.
What I didn’t realize is that these shorter vacations meant I only ever dipped my toes into the feeling and the flavor of a place… I could hit the top 5 and top 10 “must-dos” and the best or most recommended restaurants in the city… but I felt my experience was lacking.
I wanted to feel like a local.
I yearned for a deeper, more authentic experience, something that I didn’t realize would soon be in my grasp, something that perhaps only sabbaticalists and retirees had figured out, something of Eat Pray Love fable… “slow travel.”
The Rise of Slow Travel
Ever since work-remote became mainstream (especially during the pandemic era), more and more people have been exploring “slow travel,” including myself. In March 2020, I road tripped and worked remotely through New Mexico and Texas for a month, cutting my plans short once the pandemic reared. In June, my dog and I road tripped some more through Wyoming and South Dakota. And in July 2020, I made the momentous decision to sell my house in Phoenix, liquidate my belongings, and travel full-time as a nomad — or perhaps, sometimes more aptly, “slo-mad.”
I spent the first month of nomad life in Boise, Idaho. A month in Boise allowed me to lean into community, find my favorite plate of nachos, identify the brewery or coffee shop that was the dog-friendliest, get off the beaten path and outside of town, and make friends that I saw again and again during my time there (and would later see elsewhere in the country!). It also allowed me to take rest and relaxation, and to pace myself — gone were the days of rushing to this top sight and that top sight, trying to fit too many things into one day, waking up early and going to bed exhausted with brain overload, and it saved me loads of disappointment if something “went wrong” or didn’t work out in terms of scheduling, weather, or the like.
I had discovered the joys of slow travel, over fast-paced or standard paced travel.
The Elimination of ‘Only Chance’
Not only is your experience deeper with slow travel, there isn’t an “only chance” to see the big stuff — a traveler has an opportunity to try again if those once-in-lifetime sights are closed, overbooked, or otherwise unavailable.
Like the time I missed out on marveling at one of the biggest churches in the world — La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona — because there were no more time slots available.
The time the Cliffs of Moher were invisible due to foggy and rainy weather, and I couldn’t see two feet ahead of me, much less the rugged and craggy landmark of Ireland.
The time I went to Manuel Antonio National Park in Costa Rica to see sloths and monkeys amid lush rainforest, but unbeknownst to me, it was closed on Tuesdays.
At each disappointment, my heart fell. I had a pit in my stomach. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity lost. But with slow travel? There’s another shot. Not to mention how much more oriented and adjusted you are after spending more than one week in a place!
Since that month in Boise, I slow-traveled (which I’ll define — as there is no widely-accepted definition — at least three to four weeks in a single place) in Charleston, SC, Nashville, TN, Quebec, Canada, San Miguel de Allende, Puerto Vallarta, and Mexico City, Mexico, and Split, Croatia. I’ve built close friendships, gone on dates and had romances, improved my Spanish, and explored nooks and crannies. I found my favorite taco, ceviche place or brunch spot, I’ve gone to the club for salsa dancing again and again, I was able to see the same foreign hair colorist months apart, and I’ve been able to have not one, not two, but many interactions with locals, fellow slow-travelers, and expats, asking the question, “What do you love about living or staying in ____ [insert city here]?” The answers are delightful, and the sample size is much larger than what limited exposure in a city might get me.
Some entrepreneurs, retirees, freelancers, or remote workers take it even farther than me, spending months, seasons or even years in a foreign locale — embedding themselves in the community, learning the ways of the land (or a language), and growing from immersion. These individuals often come away with the gift of growth, understanding, and a deep appreciation for another culture.
I love slow travel, and I think others do too, because it helps us discover: we are not so different after all, the human condition is universal, and that the world has a lot to offer outside of our bubbles, should we take the opportunity to be curious and open to the experience.
As I continue to explore the world as a nomad, I will make more time to slow travel, to go deep, to embed myself, to travel past the tourist boundaries, and where not everybody speaks English — and soon, I’ll be heading back to Mexico, the nomad life ongoing. I hope you’ll follow the journey on Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, and my personal blog juliedevire.com.
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